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Genre Missed Chance To Pioneer Gay Frontier

It's OK to be gay now (at least to some people), but it wasn't always that way in sci-fi

This story contains some coarse language.

People across the country, across the world, took a minute Wednesday to show their support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered teens, letting them know they are not alone in the world, and that same world was by their side.

Yet, even with the door still mostly shut on many issues dealing with sexuality, it has creeped open far more than it has in modern history over the 15 years or so since Bill Clinton signed the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy into law. But some feel it could've been opened even more if science-fiction -- the one place where even the most taboo subjects had a soapbox -- would've tackled the issue head-on when no one else would.

Gene Roddenberry had the chance to take on what is likely one of society's toughest frontiers since the Civil Rights movement back at the start of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in the mid-1980s when a fan by the name of Franklin Hummel asked the Trek creator point-blank if fans would see the gay community represented on the Enterprise-D.

"He made the point that [the original] 'Star Trek' had been a leader in bringing black and Asian characters to television, [and] that this was the next step," popular "Star Trek" writer David Gerrold told Salon.com back in May 2001. "Gene agreed. He said, 'Sooner or later, we'll have to address the issue. We should probably have a gay character."

Gerrold, openly gay himself, took that as a green light to start on a script that would tackle the elephant in the room at the time -- the AIDS epidemic. His story, "Blood and Fire," would not only use sci-fi analogy to highlight the plight, but it would also include some brief cameos of the very gay characters Roddenberry said he wanted to include.

The episode, however, never saw the light of day on Capt. Jean-Luc Picard's Enterprise.

Some stories say it was Paramount Television that had cold feet, worried about how the episode would play in some of the United States' more conservative areas. But as Gerrold described it to Salon.com back then, it was more the people involved in the show. The late Leonard Maizlish, Roddenberry's attorney who seemed to take the whole "power of attorney" thing literally when the Trek creator became sick, made sure "Blood and Fire" never made it to air, Gerrold said.

"To my face, he called me an 'AIDS-infected cocksucker. A fucking faggot,'" Gerrold said.

The writer would quit the show, and later see "Blood and Fire" adapted in several ways, first as a book authored by Gerrold, and later as an episode of the fan-created "Star Trek: Phase II."

Neither would come out for decades after the initial writing, and in the meantime, sexuality was rarely addressed. To its credit, TNG did later feature an episode that tackled gender identity, "The Outcast," in an episode penned by Jeri Taylor, but the androgynous character -- which Cmdr. Riker fell in love with -- was played by a woman.

The suggestion of lesbianism would pop up in the spinoff "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," but once between two women, where one was actually a reincarnated version of a man, and others in mirror universe episodes.

Slowly, sexuality discussions became more accepted on television. But it didn't come from science-fiction. Instead, it came from comedy television, and later became more prominent in drama.

Now, it's rare to find science-fiction shows that don't have a diversity of sexuality. Sasha Roiz plays a gay (and happily married) gangster in Syfy's "Caprica," which also includes group marriages and some same-sex relationships. "Stargate: Universe" features a prominent lesbian crewmember played by Ming-Na.

Even some of Syfy's lighter fare, like "Warehouse 13," has suggested couplings beyond just typical heterosexual interactions when in "Buried," H.G. Wells -- played by Jaime Murray -- implied that her lovers were not all men.

Sci-fi missed its chance to pioneer in an area that is on the minds of many people today, but at least it's not missing the party altogether.

Just a note: David Gerrold is a special guest at Neconomicon in St. Petersburg, Fla. this weekend. Details on how to attend that convention can be found here.

About the Author

Michael Hinman is the founder and editor-in-chief for Airlock Alpha and the entire GenreNexus. He owns Nexus Media Group Inc., the parent corporation of the GenreNexus and is a veteran print journalist. He lives in Tampa, Fla.
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